Analog Camera Goes Digital

The digital camera revolution swept through the world in the early 2000s, and aside from some unique situations and a handful of artists still using film, almost everyone has switched over to digital since then. Unfortunately that means that there’s a lot of high quality film cameras in the world that are gathering dust, but with a few pieces of equipment it’s possible to convert them to digital and get some more use out of them.

[befinitiv]’s latest project handles this conversion by swapping in a Raspberry Pi Zero where the film cartridge would otherwise be inserted into the camera. The Pi is attached to a 3D-printed case which mimics the shape of the film, and also houses a Pi camera right in front of the location where the film would be exposed. By removing the Pi camera’s lens, this new setup is able to take advantage of the analog camera’s optics instead and is able to capture images of relatively decent quality.

There are some perks of using this setup as well, namely that video can be broadcast to this phone over a wireless connection to a computer via the Raspberry Pi. It’s a pretty interesting build with excellent results for a remarkably low price tag, and it would be pretty straightforward to interface the camera’s shutter and other control dials into the Raspberry Pi to further replicate the action of an old film camera. And, if you enjoy [befinitiv]’s projects of bringing old tech into the modern world, be sure to check out his 80s-era DOS laptop which is able to run a modern Linux installation.

33 thoughts on “Analog Camera Goes Digital

  1. With such a small sensor, it would be more like a telescope! I put a webcam sensor at the focus of my astronomical telescope (100mm / 4″ mirror with 900mm focal length), and could photograph a small sign about 1.5 km away up the hill. Bet this would have a similar though reduced effect.

    1. I still have a 500mm telephoto and a couple of teleconverters take that to an equivalent of 2000mm, which looks fun coupled with the 4x or 5x that the sensor will give me – 10m telephoto lens anyone???!

  2. > and it would be pretty straightforward to interface the camera’s shutter and other control dials into the Raspberry Pi to further replicate the action of an old film camera

    There was a much earlier project like this and syncing the physical shutter controls to the RPi was the hard part–there was a small lag between the button being pressed and the RPi sensing it, which made it unable to use the higher shutter speeds.

  3. Would be nice to see a DOF adapter inserted somewhere into the optical path, to preserve the original aspect of the image. If it were possible to aim the tiny camera at the focusing screen instead, and blank the viewfinder when you held down the shutter. You’d need to have a camera with an exceptionally short working distance however, and it would sort of violate the spirit of the project.

    1. As a fan of old cameras and oldschool photography (no LCD preview, no on the fly digital effects, manual exposure/speed control) I always like to see these projects. I liked the design of this one, because save the machine integrety and create a digital replacement for the film. A good theoric solution is using a photosensitive sensor, with the same size and approximate thickness as an analog film, placed in the traditional location. This would be connected to the computer/battery, placed in the empty space, originally dedicated to the roll (as in the present project). This would eliminate the need to connect the shutter to the computer, via a controller and its programming. In this way a mechanical camera would work the same way as originally, but without the traditional limitations (number of shots, film processing).

    2. I actually did this using an old brownie box camera. The RPI camera is mounted above the lens just outside the optical path and pointing back at the film plane. I put some high gain movie screen material. It works, sort of… The current limitations is it ends up being very low light so in full sun, I have to use the highest ISO available and about a .25 second exposure. Also, the captured image is skewed since the sensor is not in line and you end up with soft focus on top and bottom of the image.
      It’s a fun project though, and I’m sure I’ll complete it someday. I am waiting to see if a high sensitivity RPI sensor will become available, or see if I can find a way to manufacture a glass element that would refocus the 4×5 image onto the small sensor (unlikely, but ultimately the best solution…).
      The “I’m Back” project takes a similar approach by replacing the film back from a 35mm SLR camera with a focusing screen which it takes a picture of using a sensor mounted in their camera attachment. The problem there is it’s a big attachment and your camera doesn’t look like itself anymore. Also, the nature of the optics and mounting the new sensor is not trivial so, while I found the project really cool, it ended up being a bit too expensive for me.

    1. Yes, you will get a wider field of view if you move the sensor closer to the lens.
      However, this will require the object being imaged to be further away than infinity, to remain in focus. This will present additional challenges that may be insurmountable, depending on your optical engineering skills.

  4. Very cool project (despite the crop factor issue) but around here, “vintage” 35mm film cameras — rather than gathering dust — fetch a pretty penny on the used market. Especially the ones from good brands.

    1. There are many, usually by USB interface, from several vendors. They usually come equipped with their own enclosure, power supply, shutter and lens mount, and with a handy 1/4-20 mount on the bottom. They often have a viewfinder for composing the image prior to acquisition, and most also include an LCD too! Most can easily operate standalone, and accept SD cards for image and video storage.

      If you really want to eschew the comfort of all those features found in normal dSLR or EVIL bodies, you can get the relatively svelte Sony ILCE-QX1 or similar (but it’s only APS-C).

  5. Great images even with the crop factor. There must be many uses for this. befinitiv’s work on the FPV video link was incredible. Always interested to see more projects.

  6. I have an old Canon 35 mm camera that as a teenager I took on a trip to Paris and London in the late 70s. That and a trip to Dutch Antilles are reasons have certain amount of nostalgia for this old, obsolete relic – even though it sits in a draw unused for decades. Captured a few memories back in the day with this piece of gear.

    Gosh, could it be resurrected back to new life with this project hack?

    Would be great fun to show up at a social event taking pictures using this obvious antique (but weren’t the cameras of yesteryear such divine contraptions?!)

    It’s articles like this one that make HackADay web site worth the price of admission :-)

  7. Wow, I never saw this coming.
    When digital cameras first came out I asked my father (a computer industry guy) why an attempt hadn’t been made to build a digital sensor into a device that would fit the film space in a 35mm.

    1. I had (the use of) a Kodak DCS 100 that did exactly this with a Nikon body, in 1991.
      Stupidly expensive. A whole megapixel. And monochrome. It was slow, cumbersome and miserable to use.
      At the time I predicted film would never die.
      Predictions like this explain why I am not rich.

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